The Diamond Formation1 of 5
We have to keep things really simple for ALL levels of youth players. We do not want to restrict creative activity and thoughts, but at the same time we want to teach the game and certain thoughts early on. To do this we start the diamond. We all know what the diamond shape looks like. It has four points, one at the top, one on each side, left and right, and one at the bottom.
So, assuming the ball is starting at the bottom point, nearest our goal, we want to get the ball to the HIGHEST point, which is the top, near the opponent's goal. If that pass is available and safe, that is the one we make (Option No. 1). If not, we pass it left or right to the open player (Option No. 2 and 3). Now that player should try and get it to the TOP of the diamond. If not they simply pass it back or across. This continues until we can get the ball to the highest point. The shape of this game naturally teaches what the coach wants to teach--three passing directions. Forward, sideways and back.
This is especially important near the midfield. You'll constantly hear coaches preaching to their players, "Keep the ball, play simple, find feet" and more. Often the team that can control the midfield is the one that has the most success. Having MANY options is critical to players in the midfield.
Transitioning to 8v82 of 5
Now that we have seen one diamond and the players understand this basic premise, the move to larger teams and fields becomes a bit easier. When we move to the 8v8, we simply position players to form more diamonds. The same basic principles are followed (2-3-2).
Keep it simple and try and move the ball forward. If you can't move the ball forward, look to the side. Then let the side try and move it forward. If that is not an option, then pass it backwards.
Moving to the Big Game of 11v113 of 5
Our players are now becoming "big kids" and are moving to the 11v11 for the first time. By using the 3-4-3 we replicate what they have been taught for years. Look at all the diamonds below and keep in mind the keeper plays an important role in the field play. You'll notice that this formation spaces our team out evenly.
We also can push one of the three forwards (center/striker) higher up and still maintain the triangles. Because we give up a defensive player, the defenders must be ready to recover quickly and work on defending skills and communication. Also, the mid fielders must be willing to drop back and help defend when needed. Another benefit of the 3-4-3 is that it allows us to put heavy pressure in the opponent's third of the field.
This formation also encourages players to move as a team. They see and understand that the DIAMOND must be maintained. They must move forward and back to maintain the proper shape.
The Cure for Bunching4 of 5
The other brilliant aspect of the diamond is that it often helps cure the bunching in soccer. Players start to learn to find open space to maintain shapes. They also start to learn that being away from the ball has a real benefit and is a critical part of the game.
It really is funny to see the reaction when I teach this form of simple play to coaches and players. It's like I'm getting that look that says, "Why didn't anyone ever tell me this before?"
Diamonds and triangles play such a key role in good quality team soccer at the youth level.